38 Babies; All Under 2 Kilograms…

Walking into the Saigon Maternity Hospital, or any other hospital in Saigon, is not like entering any hospital I’ve ever been to. There is no clear signage leading to the admissions or entry area. There are hundreds of people milling about and the doorways and stairways leading in and out are crowded with people standing, sitting, or drifting around. Enter anywhere and you’ll find the corridors lined with people sitting where they can, on chairs or on the floor. Families come to the hospital to be with their sick or injured family members. They come and they stay.

The maternity hospital, as you might imagine, is a place of great joy and some anguish and apprehension. The joy is self evident – healthy babies and their mothers experiencing the first hours and days of their new lives together. But I was there to visit the neo-natal unit where the joy of new birth is mixed with apprehension. Prematurely born babies are often born without fully developed lungs and consequently aren’t able to absorb the oxygen they desperately need. East Meets West has a program called Breath of Life that delivers the technology needed to help these babies get to the point where they can breathe on their own. We helped developed a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine that delivers oxygen under pressure to these undeveloped lungs. We didn’t invent it, we just figured out how to build one that is inexpensive and can be manufactured and maintained in a Third World country. That’s the key; you don’t want something complicated that has to be sent back to Germany if it goes kaput. I went to the maternity hospital to see our equipment in action.

Saigon Maternity is not Swedish Hospital. The neo-natal ward I visited was a room about 12’x12’ and there were 38 newborn babies, some 2 to a crib, all under 2 Kilos in that space – and there were several wards just like it on the same floor. Not all the babies were using the CPAP machines, but all were in some sort of distress. Some were under the lights of phototherapy machines, also donated by EMW, that deliver light of a certain wavelength to combat jaundice, also often associated with premature births. The hospital isn’t pretty. Dr. Xuan, the doctor in charge, doesn’t even have a desk, much less an office. He’s too busy. And the life saving machines look like something in the gadget section of the Goodwill. They are dented and the paint is chipped, but they are doing the job – they are saving babies lives that might otherwise be lost.

The next time you or your baby go to the hospital be grateful. Be grateful for the care you get, but also be grateful that there are people like Dr. Xuan and hospitals like Saigon Maternity doing their work under much tougher conditions than your US hospital.


  1. Sometimes ingenuity is better than modernity. Glad all of you are there to deliver the ingenuity, attention, and love.

    I'm going to go upstairs and hug my little guy.

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